The 2018 Bull League season has nearly reached the half-way point, and it’s about this time that the list of teams contending for a playoff spot, and the list of teams that aren’t, becomes a bit more clear. Contending teams are starting to look for pieces to plug any holes they have, and ensure postseason success.
On that note, we feature this year’s “buyers and sellers” list, offering insight into which teams are looking to maximize trade value and set themselves up for success next year, and those who are in need of pieces right now to lock in a deep playoff drive for 2018.
- MINNEAPOLIS RAVENS
- OHIO OXEN
- MONTREAL METROS
- RIMOUSKI FIGHTING MOOSE
- DENVER DANGER
- NEVADA SPEEDERS
The top of the list of buyers are the Minneapolis Ravens. This pitching-heavy team, which was formerly the Jacksonville Ravens in the AEL East, has landed in a “soft” division after their offseason relocation, the Lake League West. Only Ohio offers them serious competition, and the Ravens look to be the favorite to take the LL title.
A quick take on the Ravens’ strengths – top of the Lake League pitching, a solid core of big-hitting outfielders, and a solid left side of the infield – also reveals the team’s gaps.
With 1B Ken Rankin on the DL for a few more weeks, questions will linger about whether he will continue to swing with pop and contact, continuing with his .279 average as of June 6 when he went out with an ankle sprain. Utility infielder Ben Rudge stepped in to play first in his stead, but he has so far failed to impress. Rudge will not be a threat to take a job away from Rankin. Rudge has yet to hit over .158 since a 1-for-4 debut on June 13th, and has just two extra base hits so far in two weeks of play.
Alex Saldana remains the team’s regular catcher, and defensively he has held his own. But he has struggled at the plate, hitting for a decent average of .288, but showing none of his usual power. Just 4 of his 21 hits have been for extras, all doubles.
The Ravens need to plug up the right side of the infield, and could be in the market for a first baseman, second baseman, or top catcher. Like every team, they could benefit from a few more bullpen arms to add some depth in the latter half of the season. They have a deep prospect pool to deal from when buying, including OSA #1 ranked Jim Boyer, currently demolishing AA-level pitchers with an .887 OPS, and 30th ranked LHP Dave McDevitt. Team USA 2017 college outfielder Brandon Seymour is another prospect that could be moved for the right pieces.
Another probably buyer will be the Ohio Oxen, who find themselves in the playoff mix, but struggling to keep their head above water. After losing starters Heath Smokem and Skeeter Heater, they suddenly find their rotation in chaos closing out the first half. Heater could be back soon, but with Frasor Clause and Alvin White struggling in the meanwhile, the Oxen need urgent support in the starting five. Or six, as the case has been for at least some of this season. With the Lake League’s top offense this year, pitching remains their only concern, but it’s a huge one.
The Oxen may take a run at Miami’s Jake Figurski, who is in his last year with the Storm, a power-balling righty who could provide some solid innings when given enough run support. Other possibilities include trying to deal for Arizona’s Robby McWeeney, or Chicago’s Mario Morales. Both the Cowboys and the Pit Bulls are essentially hors de combat for 2018, and the Oxen have a surplus of position player talent in their prospect pool. While not likely to want to give up their top guy, AAA-level phenom Florian Leroy, they could deal Ricky Marte or Mike Sclafani if it means bringing in solid arms that can last 5 or 6 innings.
Quebec rivals Montreal Metros and Rimouski Fighting Moose are also buyers at this point. The Metros were a pre-season favorite to take a deep playoff run, and the Moose had a solid finish to 2017, even managing to dust away the Oxen in round 1 last season. The Metros would also be in the market for a catcher – “Wild” Bill Sarauer has wielded a wet noodle for a bat all season, and hasn’t thrown out a single baserunner all season. His number 2, Daniel Hillier, has managed to throw them out, but hasn’t hit any better than Sarauer. They next best catching prospect is only at A-level, leaving him unable to offer realistic help for this year.
The Moose loaded up on starters before the season, signing William Febres, Lou Bricknell and Kyle Cahill out of free agency. Loading up on three compensation-eligible FA’s cost them all their draft picks in the early rounds. Now, with Febres on the DL, and their top AAA arm, Shingo Koga, also out for the rest of the year, the Moose are also on the hunt for solid starters. The Oxen have a deeper prospect pool, and should be able to leverage that, but the Moose could offer up Brian Bonner, a disciplined power hitting right fielder, who could whet the appetites of some of the sellers.
AEL buyers include a surprising 2018 entry, Denver Danger, who would also be shopping for a starter to bolster their rotation, but will also want a playoff-ready closer to replace Oscar Navarro, who has so far failed to impress the club with his 5 blown saves in 14 opportunities, and a 4.14 FIP. He is a liability, with a .321 BABIP and too many wild pitches. Look for the Danger GM Luis Suarez to be prepared to deal a prospect arm like David Velez, or even Willie Morales, in exchange for something to add to their bullpen to fill the setup or closer slot. They might take a run at Calgary’s Kevin Krohn, or Detroit’s Danny Hooten to make their playoff dreams happen.
Finally, the Nevada Speeders are happily in the buyer’s market this year, after struggling in recent seasons. Their offseason international free agent signing of Chitoji Yamada has been a huge offensive boost, and 3B Jose Torres is having a second great year since coming to the club in an early 2017 trade with Toronto and being named to the AEL All-Star team in his first year there. Despite hitting for a low average of just .233, he has contributed with 8 home runs and 20 RBIs so far this year. The Speeders need a little extra something at the plate, while waiting for uncertainies like Narushi Ohata, who is on the mend. Their pitching staff is so far solid as a rock, and they have viable call-up options should too many more hit the DL.
- CALIFORNIA TIDALS
- DALLAS DEPUTIES
- CHICAGO PIT BULLS
- LOUISVILLE SLUGGERS
- ARIZONA COWBOYS
None of the “sellers” have a shot at a playoff run this year. So it’s time to start offloading and resetting for next year… or the year after in some cases.
Number 1 is California. The Tidals are in full rebuilding mode right now, and have a big name piece in 1B Jim Lahey, who is in his final contract year. They just sent RHP Joe Lund to Dallas, who are also a seller but are looking at retooling for 2019. The Tidals have some decent bullpen arms as well, and Andy Myers might be a piece they would be willing to move, although he is young and under team control, and thus very possibly part of their future year plans. LHP Sjaak Mills is getting a rough ride this year, but would do well on a team that can offer more run support, like Ohio or Montreal.
The Dallas Deputies may have just made some moves to grab Lund from California, but they are still considered sellers and have pieces to move, namely Bradford Seymour and Joe Street. Seymour is batting over .300, with some wheels to leg out extra bases and is a top defensive 2B or SS. He put in years with Denver and Toronto, but after being signed initially as a minor leaguer this spring he’s had a resurgence as a Deputy. Joe Street is a veteran, former MVP and championship power swinger who could be the right fit for a team looking for a DH or 3B that can bring them to a postseason.
The Chicago Pit Bulls have a slew of prospects at the upper minors level, including a nasty power-throwing righty at AA-level Anchorage named Marco Martinez who should be ready to start at the major level sometime in 2019. They will want to move Ming Ou, the 36-year-old starter who is currently in AAA-level, while his numbers are good and before he hits another injury snag. His salary will be difficult to sell, but he’s in his last year and it might make sense to retain a large portion in a deal that sees some prospects added to the pipeline. 2B George Hubbard is also 36 and will be a free agent after next year. He is finally hitting well, but with the Pit Bulls going nowhere in 2018 it might be a good plan to sell him off for some solid prospects to a team who could use a disciplined and quick-footed middle infielder, along the lines of what the Ravens or Speeders would need.
For the Louisville Sluggers, sitting on a hugely valuable catcher like Les Groves, who they just drafted last year. But with no viable pitching or serious infield, they could leverage his value into a fistful of pitching prospects in a heartbeat. Veteran Koji Kondo may not have as much value, but is a solid performer at 34, especially in clutch playoff situations. Kondo would make sense as a piece to move especially because he’s in a walk year and hitting over .300 with an OPS of over .900.
Finally, the Arizona Cowboys snagged a huge playmaker in 2B Tak-keung Yang as an international FA this offseason. But with no serious rotation pieces aside from Orellana and McWeeney, no bullpen, and no one else capable of going yard with regularity, the Cowboys should swallow their pride and deal their new shiny toy in order to supplement their prospect pipeline. The Cowboys system is currently 17th out of 20, and desperately need a few more top 100 players to join OSA 13th ranked Jose Solis, and finally make hay in 2020 or 2021.
The rest of the league is in “hold” mode. They are either in the playoff running and don’t need to make any major adjustments, or they are teams out of contention without a lot of pieces or offer.
Topping this list would be St. Petersburg Admirals, which look set to take a deep playoff run, and have no serious gaps in their rotation or lineup. Another “hold” team is Calgary. The Inferno, who were the 2017 Bull Cup champs are threatening their division once again, and are largely set. They have all the right pieces in the rotation, a consistent, veteran closer, and a league-leading run production lineup. If their starters can shut the door on the worst-in-league runs against they will shoot up in the standings like a rocket.
The Boston Brawlers and New York Dragons also rate as “hold” teams as they too have fairly complete lineups and pitching staffs. The Toronto Nomads may or may not be in contention, but have little to offer in terms of trade value with many of their top players saddled with big contracts, and several big contract players failing to perform. With a few small adjustments they might stop their spectacular collapse from first place two weeks ago, to barely above .500 today. But largely, they just need their players to start performing again and they’ll be gunning for a wildcard.